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SNCF has qualms about Texas Central

Who is SNCF? They’re another passenger rail company, one that has also expressed an interest in building lines in Texas, and they have offered some negative feedback to the Texas Central high speed rail line.

One of the world’s largest train operators says that its proposal of a passenger rail network that includes the Interstate 35 corridor would be a better fit for Texas than the $15 billion Dallas-to-Houston bullet train that’s on the table.

“Look at the state as a whole. Instead of creating a link, create a network,” said SNCF America president Alain Leray, who is visiting Dallas, Austin and Waco this week on the heels of filing his company’s eight-pages of commentary on the Federal Draft Environmental Statement for the Dallas-to-Houston line.

Maryland-based SNCF America, a branch of the French National Railway, pitched its “Texas T-bone” idea to the Federal Railroad Administration in 2008 and 2016. The plan calls for “higher speed rail” service of 125 mph.

The railroad administration has instead proceeded to work with Texas Central Partners on a Dallas-to-Houston bullet line featuring speeds up to 210 mph and using Japanese technology.

[…]

If Texas Central Partners is first on the ground in the U.S., SNCF officials feel it may be game over for their firm and any other competition.

Currently, federal regulations do not address equipment requirements for train speeds above 150 mph. Texas Central Partners has petitioned for what is known as a rule of particular applicability (RPA). If the RPA is accepted and Texas Central successfully builds the nation’s first bullet line, it will be creating the standard.

“I think they have done a remarkable job. They are fighters and go-getters,” Leray said Monday of Texas Central. “Their chances of getting an RPA elsewhere becomes so much greater if they get this.”

See here, here, and here for more on SNCF, which has proposed a version of the “Texas T-Bone that would connect both San Antonio and Houston to D/FW. They have also expressed concern about that RPA in the past, which I can understand. As someone who wants passenger rail to be a success in Texas, and who wants to see as much of it built as possible, I’d say that if SNCF or some other rail company has a viable proposal for an additional line in Texas that depends on a standard that doesn’t lock them out of the market, then that should be taken into account when evaluating Texas Central’s RPA. Building the first line should not be a pathway to monopoly. On the other hand, if SNCF or whoever else doesn’t have anything remotely close to being in the pipeline, then I’m not sure what the fuss is about.

The bottom line is that I support maximizing the potential for passenger rail in Texas. It’s been my hope that if the Texas Central line is successful, it was generate demand for extensions and additions to it. Whatever furthers that goal is fine by me, and whatever hinders it should be avoided.

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9 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    SNCF submitted that as a comment on the FRA’s DEIS for the proposed Texas Central HSR.

    There are a lot of issues with the DEIS – it is fatally flawed and should be rescinded. The issues include:

    After using Economic Viability to eliminate entire corridors earlier in the process and trumping NEPA requirements such as the Clean Air Act, Historic Preservation, Noise and Vibration, and Economic Justice – which is protections for minority communities – the FRA eliminated Economic Viability as a criteria in the DEIS. The DEIS actually states that no-build is not an option because it does not fit the purpose of the project – the purpose of the project basically is to build the HSR.

    Ridership is greatly exaggerated and not backed up by any data. The 7.2 million riders per year is taken from Texas Central’s proprietary ridership and revenue report. Other sources (Reason Foundation and TxDOT) estimate between 700,000 and 2.7 million riders per year. The DEIS claims 14,630 cars per day will be taken off I45; using Reason’s numbers, only 816 cars per day would be taken of I45. 816 cars per day would do nothing to reduce congestion on I45.

    The DEIS is inconsistent in the number of riders per year diverted from cars – using 6,408,000 in air quality calculations and 5,300,000 in tax impact calculations – a 20% difference. This may be due to the authors not being able to see the secret ridership report.

    The DEIS compounds the exaggerated ridership when calculating the number of cars taken off the road by inexplicably multiplying the 7.2 million riders by the current 89% auto market share of travelers between Dallas and Houston and then dividing by 1.2 passengers per car. Neither number makes sense and the DEIS does not account for induced ridership at any point.

    The exaggerated ridership and bad calculations for cars taken off the road is fed into the emissions calculations. The DEIS doubles the VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) removed by using round-trip miles instead of one-way miles, doubling the previous errors.

    All of the emissions removed calculations in the DEIS are wrong. We are unable to tell if emissions would increase or not due to the HSR. Air Quality is a major factor in NEPA.

    Furthermore, the DEIS states “HSR ticket sales could generate between $15 billion and $39 billion in sales tax for the state plus $5 billion to $12 billion in local tax revenue”. This is nonsense, Texas does not levy sales tax on transportation.

    Texas Central, instead of questioning or correcting these errors, has publicized them.

    These errors render it so that people cannot make informed comments or opinions on the project. The DEIS must be rescinded.

  2. mollusk says:

    For context, the Reason Foundation describes itself as a libertarian think tank; its biggest funders are the Koch and Scaife families. It seems likely that its analysis is driven by an agenda.

    From a purely personal perspective – before airport security doubled the time it took to fly to Dallas (based on walking in the door at Hobby) I’d fly unless I expected to be there more than three days. Although I now always drive it, I’d love to have a realistic alternative again. I suspect I’m not alone on that.

  3. Jules says:

    You could argue that Texas Central’s 7.2 million riders per year is driven by an agenda too.

    One difference is that Reason shows how they get their ridership numbers – Texas Central does not. You can look at what Reason did to get their 1.4 million riders per year and see if it makes sense. You don’t have to guess to reverse engineer the 816 cars per day taken off the road.

    Since Texas Central doesn’t show their work, the DEIS had to make bad guesses to get to 14,630 riders per day off the road. These numbers are important as the inform emissions calculations. Whether for or against the project, I would hope that people are for accuracy.

    None of the 3 sources (Texas Central, Reason, TxDOT) say that no one would ride the train.

  4. Jules says:

    Ooops that is 14,630 cars per day off the road that the DEIS states, not riders.

  5. C. L. says:

    I don’t give a shit how many cars or drivers it takes off I-35/45 as long as I don’t have to pay for it

  6. Jules says:

    Texas Central says they will seek federal loans so if they get them and default, we will all pay for it.

  7. Bill Kelly says:

    Loan . . . meaning it is paid back. Many students and recent graduates are familiar with this concept.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    The folks pushing for the project with federal loans should all be made to sign personal guarantees of repayment, that would not be discharged with a bankruptcy. If the principals are so sure about this, then surely they would be willing to put their own fortunes at personal risk.

    If they aren’t personally willing to lose every thing they own now and going forward, then why should the taxpayers assume the risk if things go South? Anyone remember Solyndra? Those principals got away with the money, Scot free, meanwhile, the taxpayers took it in the shorts.

  9. Jules says:

    Bill K. Its likely that the federal loan programs would rely on the FRAs data. The DEIS is fatally flawed. You can’t make good decisions with bad data. Look at SH130 tollroad for an example of federal loan default.

    Bill D. I like it.